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Senate Passes $631 Billion Defense Bill

By DONNA CASSATA

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The Senate overwhelmingly approved a sweeping, $631 billion defense bill Tuesday that sends a clear signal to President Barack Obama to move quickly to get U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan, tightens sanctions on Iran and limits the president's authority in handling terror suspects.

Ignoring a veto threat, the Senate voted 98-0 for the legislation that authorizes money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provides a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. After a decade of increasing Pentagon budgets, the vote came against the backdrop of significant reductions in projected military spending and the threat of deeper cuts from the looming "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax increases.

The bill reflects the nation's war-weariness after more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, the messy uncertainty about new threats to U.S. security and Washington belt-tightening in times of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Spending solely on the base defense budget has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, but the latest blueprint reins in the projected growth in military dollars.

The bill would provide some $526 billion for the base defense budget, $17 billion for defense programs in the Energy Department and about $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan. House and Senate negotiators must reconcile their competing versions of the bill in the next few weeks.

"The major challenge is time," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters after the vote.

Reacting to the relentless violence in Syria, the Senate voted 92-6 to require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the ability of the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has pushed for greater U.S. military involvement to end the Syrian civil war, sponsored the amendment. Obama on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical and/or biological weapons against his people as the U.S. and its allies weigh military options.

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